Should Eagle Rock High Honor Two Valedictorians?

Definitely not, says LAUSD, rejecting claims by two parents whose otherwise stellar daughter has settled for Salutatorian.

By any standard, Elisha Marquez is a whiz kid.

Born in the Philippines, she’s been a straight-A’s student throughout her six years at , which closed for the summer Tuesday. Consider her achievements:

• She was valedictorian of her class in middle school.
• As a junior last year, she was among a handful of students who got an engineering internship at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab.
• She has been invited back to JPL for a six-week engineering stint, with a $3,000 stipend, starting this coming Monday, June 25.
• She recently won a scholarship through the prestigious Gates Millennium Scholars program, which is awarded to no more than 1,000 students nationwide.
• She has been accepted by various Ivy League universities, including Harvard, but has decided to go to Stanford, where she will get a full-tuition-paid scholarship.

It's no surprise that Marquez, 18, has a 4.50-weighted GPA—and her parents believe she should be the Class of 2012 Valedictorian at Eagle Rock High’s convocation ceremony, which will be held at the amphitheater on Wednesday, June 20.

But it turns out that another student, Jasmine Fernandez, will be getting that honor. Because Fernandez has a marginally higher GPA than Marquez—4.55—the school has ranked her first for graduation among more than 500 students, while giving Marquez the second-place Salutatorian award.

Parents Challenge the District

The decision, based purely on numbers, should be clear to most observers. But to Marquez’s parents, the picture is far more complicated. In a letter addressed to LAUSD District 4 Director Annick Draghi on March 8, Marquez’s father, Nelson Marquez, challenged the District’s class rank policies, which, he claimed, unfairly denied his daughter the top ranking in the Class of 2012.

Nelson Marquez’s main contention in the letter, a copy of which he provided to Patch, is that his daughter was not given the same opportunity that was available to Fernandez to take the optimum number of Advanced Placement classes while she was in the ninth grade.

The reason for that, according to Nelson Marquez, is that only ninth-grade students in the school’s Magnet program had an opportunity to take AP classes, which were not an option for his daughter because she was in the Gifted program.

“Apparently, undue advantage had already been given to Magnet students, and no matter what she did, she would not have been able to catch up,” Nelson Marquez wrote in his letter to Draghi. “My daughter requested AP classes in the ninth grade, and was unable to take any. She requested more than the two AP’s she had in the tenth grade, but was unable to take more.”

A Question of Equal Opportunity?

As a result, argues Nelson Marquez in his letter, his daughter “received an unequal educational opportunity from the start, which, under federal law, is a guaranteed right of every student.”

One particularly disadvantageous aspect of his daughter’s ninth-grade experience, Nelson Marquez told Patch, was her inability to take an AP class in Spanish—the only foreign language available to students in the grade. Because there were no preparatory classes leading to AP Spanish in the ninth grade, said Nelson Marquez, it would have been a severe handicap for his daughter to study a language she was unfamiliar with.

The other part of Nelson Marquez’s contention that his daughter was unfairly denied the Valedictorian position has to do with the LAUSD’s practice of calculating graduating students’ GPAs based on the grades achieved in the first semester of the 12th year rather than after the second—and last—semester. (The first semester cutoff is aimed at enabling students to apply for admission to colleges and universities.)

First Semester Versus Second Semester

In an April 3 letter addressed to the California Department of Education’s Office of Equal Opportunity, Nelson Marquez argued that if scores from both semesters are taken into account, his daughter and the designated Valedictorian would have the same GPA, effectively tying them for the Class of 2012’s top honor.

“With the early cutoff that the school enforces, all the opportunities she [Elisha] tried to create for herself became worthless,” Nelson Marquez wrote in his two-page letter to California Department of Education, adding: “Where is the equality of opportunity in that?”

For its part, the California Department of Education responded to Nelson Marquez in a May 24 letter, stating that it has no authority to say anything in the matter because Marquez did not allege any protected group had been discriminated against based on race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation or disability.

“They're not alleging discrimination, which is one basis very important in order for us to have any authority,” Sharon Felix-Rochon, director in the California Department of Education's Office of Equal Opportunity, told Patch, adding: "We found that there is no evidence at all of any violation and that the District acted appropriately."

The Stress of High Achievement

Elisha’s mother, Carol Marquez, told Patch that her daughter took as many as six AP classes in the last semester, frequently arriving at school for zero period at 7 a.m. “That’s why she’s so stressed out,” she said. “And she did it for nothing.”

Carol Marquez likens the first semester cutoff to a basketball game in which the results of the last quarter are not counted. When she posed the issue to LAUSD’s Draghi in a teleconference, says Carol, Draghi replied that the issue isn’t about a student’s total grades but rather about timing. (Dr. Draghi did not return several phone calls from Patch to confirm this account, although Patch did speak to her boss, Dale Vigil.)

“What is a Valedictorian?” asks Carol rhetorically. “The highest-achieving student in the whole school throughout the year—or the highest-achieving student in just the first semester?”

Jan Davis, administrative coordinator for high school programs at LAUSD, confirmed that it has been District policy since 2004 to have a cutoff date before the second semester.

“Prior to 2004, schools determined their own policy regarding Valedictorian,” Davis told Patch, explaining that she remembers how Venice High School resorted to its own discretion in the matter when she worked there years ago. Added Davis: “If she [Marquez] feels she didn’t have enough opportunity to take AP classes, she would have to take up the matter with the school.”

Ample Opportunity?

According to ERHS Principal Salvador Velasco, however, Marquez as well as her parents were “well aware there were other opportunities for AP courses for her to be able to match” Fernandez’s grades.

“They were aware, and they had the opportunity, so they had both—awareness and opportunity,” Velasco said, emphasizing that Elisha Marquez could have stepped up her AP classes in the 10th and 11th grades if she felt there weren’t enough opportunity to take AP classes in the ninth grade.

“There’s no discrepancy, no favoritism—every child has the opportunity to take AP classes,” Dale Vigil, LAUSD’s superintendent for District 4, told Patch. Added Vigil: “I spoke at length with the father [Nelson Marquez] and we respect the principal’s position to have just one valedictorian.”

And how do the Salutatorian’s parents feel about that? “It is what it is,” concedes Nelson Marquez, stoically, adding: “Anyway, she got the Gates Millennium Scholarship.”

The Marquez family isn't giving up, however. Nelson and Carol are waiting for the final-semester transcripts, which will be released after graduation, and which they expect will almost surely favor their daughter. "We'll sue the LAUSD and ask them, 'okay, can you now make the final ranking?'" says Carol. "We just want to prove them wrong."

Pam June 23, 2012 at 06:38 AM
ERHS Moms: If the school were to change the rules in order to alter the outcome in a particular instance, the school would be opening itself up to many legitimate lawsuits. If the final semester's grades had, by chance, reversed the two top students' positions, wouldn't the other girl's family have had a legitimate complaint against the school? The school's policies do not seem uncommon or unreasonable, and it seems that the policies were made clear in advance.
Be thankful June 23, 2012 at 07:39 AM
Wow, you all are crazy and worked up over nothing. Why do you think that everyone needs to be the winner. Not everyone gets to win, that is life. Start getting used to it now or you will be a wreck the rest of your life. Take satisfaction in your accomplishments, they are amazing. Maybe we can have everyone get a gold medal in the upcoming Olympics since they may not have had the exact same opportunity as the first place person. Get a life and try to change things that really matter. This is not one of those issues.
person June 23, 2012 at 07:58 AM
Ajay, please tell me how my response was "deplorably insulting." And if we are going to criticize or suggest that we be more careful about what we are writing, then let me return the favor. If you claim to be a journalist, don't you think you should do some better investigative research into this whole matter before you publish a slanted and biased article that only presents one side of this issue? Isn't it highly irresponsible to present this story without all the facts? Where is Jasmine Fernandez's side to this whole story? Did you research the entire transcripts of both both students and examine exactly why one finished with 5 credits more? So how about this. I will promise to be more civil and constructive if you promise to write your news stories with some journalistic integrity.
person June 23, 2012 at 08:15 AM
I'm no defender of Mr. Velasco. He's done all that. Draghi is no better. If he treated Elisha rudely, that certainly is horrible. But the point is that you can't change the rules when one student realizes at the end that the person ranked above him/her isn't going to stumble and his or her only chance to get the top spot is through legal action. As a teacher at ERHS, I do know that were many students who finished very high GPA's. When you bend one rule to accommodate one person then you have to accommodate everyone.
Ajay Singh (Editor) June 23, 2012 at 08:37 AM
@person—your response was insulting because you're indulging in personal attacks against another reader, which violates our policy for comments. And this story isn't about Jasmine Fernandez, which is why it doesn't need her "side" of it, nor does it need to uncover why her GPA was higher. This story revolves around Elisha Marquez's parents and their struggle—whether misguided or not—to get the LAUSD to bestow the Valedictorian honor on their daughter.
bob welling June 23, 2012 at 11:25 AM
"there are a lot of schools"....so, what, some countries have genocidal maniacs for leaders, so you are saying that is ok? learn to think, typing comes next.
person June 23, 2012 at 12:30 PM
Ajay, Your article presents an argument that Elisha should be the valedictorian. Of course this makes this story just as much as about Jasmine Fernandez as it does Elisha. And, If you're going to write an article about WHY Elisha should be #1, don't you think you NEED to investigate the transcripts of both girls? Of course it does! I quote from your article: It's no surprise that Marquez, 18, has a 4.50-weighted GPA—and her parents believe she should be the Class of 2012 Valedictorian at Eagle Rock High’s convocation ceremony, which will be held at the Occidental College amphitheater on Wednesday, June 20. But it turns out that another student, Jasmine Fernandez, will be getting that honor. Because Fernandez has a marginally higher GPA than Marquez—4.55—the school has ranked her first for graduation among more than 500 students, while giving Marquez the second-place Salutatorian award. Parents Challenge the District The decision, based purely on numbers, should be clear to most observers. But to Marquez’s parents, the picture is far more complicated. In a letter addressed to LAUSD District 4 Director Annick Draghi on March 8, Marquez’s father, Nelson Marquez, challenged the District’s class rank policies, which, he claimed, unfairly denied his daughter the top ranking in the Class of 2012."
person June 23, 2012 at 01:07 PM
Well said, EagleRockMom.
EagleRockMom June 23, 2012 at 01:09 PM
Come on, Bob! You are insulting a kid and that's lower than low. Muster up some class and keep your personal opinions about Elisha's appearance to yourself.
EagleRockMom June 23, 2012 at 01:22 PM
While I would've appreciated more information about Jasmine Fernandez, she is not the one who is crying over spilt milk so this article doesn't require much else but the fact that she has the highest GPA at ERHS. She was awarded a well-deserved honor and is taking the high road by not participating in this controversy.
Kelly June 23, 2012 at 02:06 PM
Ajay-Thank you. I posted my opinion but I never attack anyone on blogs the way she did. This kind of shows you what kind of teacher this "person" is.
Ajay Singh (Editor) June 23, 2012 at 05:59 PM
@person—the transcripts are not in dispute here: nobody, not the parents, not the school, not the LAUD, not the California Board of Education, is doubting their veracity. Why are you?
EagleRockMom June 23, 2012 at 06:55 PM
Alex, I feel that people are taking below-the-belt shots at Ajay Singh by insulting him. He chose not to involve the Jasmine Fernnandez because this story is about Elisha Marquez's parents and their crusade. Is it really that hard to understand that? And as for you sarcastically calling me an assistant editor, I could care less.
person June 24, 2012 at 12:32 AM
I never disputed nor questioned transcripts, but if you are going to write a news story about whether or not Elisha Marquez should be valedictorian then wouldn't a proper journalist look at the grades and classes? Wouldn't a proper journalist look at the schedules and the opportunities that were presented to these girls? To write your news story just based on the Marquez family is highly irresponsible. And let me return to a previous post you made to me about my insulting comments but yet Bob's disgusting comments about Elisha's weight have remained all day without a public response from you. What gives, Ajay?
Ajay Singh (Editor) June 24, 2012 at 01:01 AM
To take your latter question first: I don't see how Bob's comment was any more "disgusting"—to use your chosen epithet—than your use of the word "idiot" in your own comment. (As a teacher, especially, you probably know—or should—what a loaded word that is.) Your first point seems clearly addressed to me in the story—and implied in Principal Velasco's quote wherein he points to AP opportunities in subsequent grades but does not dispute the fact that 9th-grade Gifted students actually have relatively less opportunities to pursue AP classes, not least because the only available foreign-language AP course for Gifted students in the 9th grade is evidently Spanish—with no preparatory classes leading up to it.
ERMom June 24, 2012 at 02:18 AM
Public education is facing major setbacks due to budget cuts and pink slips. Spending all this energy arguing about which girl WAS named valedictorian -- or whether there should be more than one -- is a waste when you consider the real problems we have. It's so easy to hate, criticize and rant. It's really hard to make lasting, meaningful change. As stakeholders at ERHS, consider investing your energy into more productive activity that really counts. Volunteer. Counsel a kid who's struggling. Organize a fundraiser. BTW - my kid was valedictorian of his graduating class. He got to make a speech before the salutarian did. That's about it. Enjoying his last summer at home was much more memorable. College scholarship: the real prize. P.S. There should only be ONE valedictorian - does any graduation ceremony need more speeches by 18 year olds????
Pacman June 24, 2012 at 03:36 AM
"it's like pacquioa..." that is hilarious! I could watch that over and over. Just like pacquioa you parents are losers! Boxing is a subjective sport while American Idol is a popularity contest, and what a surprise that those two losers were both Pilipino. Sounds like the world is against Pilipinos in the eyes of these two brainiacs.
John Goldfarb June 24, 2012 at 05:53 AM
Where does your quotation about pacquioa come from?
Pacman June 24, 2012 at 03:07 PM
Wow, You haven't seen the channel 2 report? Talk about must see TV. In this case the book ( article ) does not do the movie ( tv report ) justice. Everyone that I have shown it to breaks out in laughter. I don't know how the reporter keeps a straight face.
Pacman June 24, 2012 at 03:10 PM
Please look it up and watch the two clowns.
EagleRockMom June 24, 2012 at 07:37 PM
@Alex White: Meh.
majii June 24, 2012 at 09:55 PM
Many high schools use the 1st semester grades so that the students can begin submitting applications to colleges. I'm in GA, and the high school from which I retired did the same thing. Using 1st semester grades gives the registrars and guidance counselors more time to do their part in the applications process. This is important since many high schools have a limited number of registrars and counselors on the payroll. I taught high school for 33 years until 2009, and the process of determining which student would be the valedictorian/salutatorian was always based on the 1st semester grades of their senior year.
John Goldfarb June 25, 2012 at 12:44 AM
I just did--how pathetic!
Sawthisload Ofcraponfb June 25, 2012 at 03:23 AM
Amen! All they have accomplished is embarrassing themselves and their daughter. Good job, hope her new roomies at Stanford don't read the internetz.
Angie June 25, 2012 at 10:28 PM
This is very sad. This young woman probably felt really great about herself until her parents basically told her "you didn't do good enough". How can they tabulate grades and GPA's before graduation. The teachers have to complete all of the paperwork before final scores are tabulated. Therefore, you have to have numbers to use before graduation, in order to hold graduation. Would you want to hold up graduation until all records are in. NO YOU WOULD NOT. The students want it to be over and not have to come back at a later date to graduate. Why cant you just be happy that your child did so well. Also, having a child in the magnet program can go either way, good or bad. And you, as a parent, have the right to have your child tested, therefore giving them every opportunity of each child in the LAUSD. I know this because I had on tested and would not let them test my other child. I wanted her to have a normal childhood, without all of the competativness of the magnet. Having a magnet student is very trying for parents, contrary to popular belief.
Emilio Mendoza June 29, 2012 at 02:45 AM
Ok people, your kids are awesome. We get it. Congratulations. How about everyone just relax, celebrate, and spend time with their families before they are unable to do so. Cut the petty BS and focus on what matters. There's a whole big beautiful world out there. Happiness is a decision.
kay June 29, 2012 at 07:18 AM
Be Nice Now let's all open our Bibles and read Psalms 37:10 !!!
kay June 29, 2012 at 07:19 AM
Now let's all open our Bibles and read psalms 37:10.
karatekid June 29, 2012 at 05:32 PM
Jared Michael June 19, 2013 at 03:55 PM
You guys are crazy. It wasn't that the parents that want it, IT WAS THE CHILD. You all are telling this innocent child to stop believing for what she believes in. To move on. What horrible parents you guys would make. These parents are doing what their child wants. NOT WHAT THEY WANT. Stop all of this. You don't know what is really happening. You should all apologize to this family because you are all wrong.


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